Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Kimono in Wool, Silk & Synthetics ~ What's the Difference?

Hello! Today I'll tell you about some different fabrics that most kimono are made of, and some of the pro's and cons of each. Let's start out with wool.
This adorable chrysanthemum and arabesque print that my daughter is wearing is made of wool. Wool?, you might say ~ That sounds itchy!
Well, let me tell you about Japanese wool ~ it's not itchy. It IS sometimes blended with silk, which makes it even smoother, and it is absolutely NOTHING like the course wools or tweeds that your brain automatically conjures up. In fact, if you didn't KNOW it was wool, you probably wouldn't even guess it.

See how it drapes? I'm telling you this isn't your everyday wool.

However, although it's not your everyday wool, because of it's extraordinary nature, wool kimono actually makes a great deal of sense for everyday use. It breathes well, it will keep you warm, it is durable, you can find wool kimono for fairly cheap prices, and best of all? You can wash wool kimono. Yup, it's true ~ toss it in the wash on cold/cold, put it in the dryer on NO HEAT fluff, take it out just before it's completely dry, hang it up for a few hours, and voila! your kimono is fresh and ready again! My friend, that is LOW maintenance for a kimono ~ ;-D


Not only that, but wool is versatile ~ Say you decided to go hime ( that means to use western wear in your kitsuke... I'll cover that in another post ~ :-D ), wool is easy and versatile. It looks just as great with a turtleneck & boots as it does an obi & tabi.

Also, wool kimono can come in prints, like this one, or it can come in weaves, like the one below.
Isn't this apple weave fun?

These weaves are pretty impressive, when you think about it ~they were dyed prior to being woven completely (that is what gives them the slightly ~off~, not quite crisp~ lines). That process is called ikat, or kasuri weaving. If you google it, you will see that it is quite a process.

This apple design is actually a rather unusual example of it ~ plaid woven apples in bright red, green, yellow and white, on a navy background!

You can dress it up or down, too. One small caveat about wool, however ~ it isn't very formal. So if you have a tea ceremony or a wedding or funeral to attend, wool is not going to fit the bill. It's too casual for that. On the other hand, we don't drink tea, and there just aren't that many formal Japanese weddings and funerals going on around here. In fact, I imagine that even if you live in Japan, you won't be going to a wedding or funeral everyday. As such, wool kimono is a smart investment. 

And here is an example of silk kimono. "Ahh", say you ~ "why didn't you wear wool, you just went on & on about how ~everyday~ it was, and here you are, going to the library in SILK? What gives?"

"Well", say I, "There is actually a LOT of vintage silk kimono out there. How else are we supposed to utilize / (justify!) this ridiculous amount of wafuku, if we don't dress up in it? Plus, the library is a safe, clean bet. Silk won't be ruined here."

Isn't homeschool amazing? You can dress up in your lovely kimono, go to the library, do your school work, and look completely amazing doing it the entire time! Well, that's what my daughter & I think, anyway. :-D

Back to my original point. The library is a perfect place to take your silk wafuku, because as long as you don't splash around in the koi pond, (only looking! :-D) your kimono is safe!
Annnnddd that's the one downfall to silk. It's true. Silk is beautiful, it breathes as well as wool (ro & sha breathe even better!), it always looks so CHIC, and of course, the formality level can be anywhere from everyday tsumugi to the very most formal kakeshita & uchikake for your wedding!
But you must be ohh so careful with it.
Isn't her obi beautiful?

This is what I mean by silk being versatile. The kimono she is wearing here is called a komon. A komon generally has small print all over the entire kimono. That is the lowest level of formality in silk kimono (still more formal than a wool kimono, however), yet just the addition of an obi with gold & silver threads can up the formality just a bit to make it appropriate for quite a few activities.  The reason it is the lowest level of formality is because the pattern didn't have to be matched at the seams, painted on after construction, or any of that more time consuming stuff. So it is considered a little cheaper. As you can see, however, komon are definitely not cheap, it is all relative to the most intense workmanship of highest degree. So yes, komon are less work than say houmongi (another level of formality / design in kimono), however, they are still a beautiful silk garment that is versatile and can be worn very regularly.

Adding an urushi woven haori can help  up the ante a bit with regard to formality as well.

Here is a sort of close-up of the urushi weave. It is a circle with arabesque flowers. ( They look like lotus to me, sort of like looking through a moon gate into the pond... well, that's what I think of when I see this.)

So you see, wearing silk to the library is a great idea! Especially if you have a komon you 've been wanting to spice up a bit. Being homeschooled doesn't hurt, either. :-D

Ahhh, and here we have a polyester or synthetic kimono. I think this is also what is called an odori kimono, because it's hitoe, synthetic, and seems to have large sakura on it. Odori means that it was used in a dance, or for performing. My understanding is that when there are large sakura or huge bold designs on synthetic, unlined kimono, it usually means it's odori.

According to some kimono enthusiasts, odori kimono shouldn't be worn to anything but festivals, but other kimono enthusiasts say that an odori can be used in place of it's regular counterpart for most informal occasions. It's probably a bit like running around in a tutu & leotard, or a flowing lyrical dance costume.  My thought on the subject is this ~ if you live in an area where no-one will know the difference, it won't make any difference ~ but just to be safe, don't head on in to a Japanese event in one, unless you are one of the dancers. Again, around here, we just don't have any Japanese Events, except for our one Sister Cities event in July. And that would call for a more formal silk houmongi ensemble, anyway.

Ok, so there must be a good reason to own one of these, right? Of course there is! First, let's be honest, it's really pretty! The designs manage to follow the body line in such a way that it looks very feminine & beautiful. They are perfect for dancing!

They are also very festive, and let's not forget that synthetic fabric factor. They are actually washable! This very kimono is an example of that! When I received it in the mail, I was so disappointed, because it had several bad-looking blots on it that looked like sauce of some sort. But then I noticed as I examined the fabric that it was a synthetic, so I got out a washcloth, got the corner damp, added just a touch of Dawn, and dabbed it on the blots. They all came off! AND no stains from the water, as would happen with silk. Eventually, I got really brave and just washed and dried the whole thing, and it came out BEAUTIFULLY!

So now you can begin to see the beauty of a synthetic kimono! Are they as breathable as silk? No. Are they as formal as silk? No. Do they in general have all that desirable handwork? No.
BUT ~ Can you wash it? YES!
That's a pretty big attraction!

And one last thing ~ it's not terribly obvious that it's a synthetic kimono from a distance. Well, sort of. But anyway, there are a lot of benefits in using a synthetic kimono.

In the end, for me, Silk trumps wool, and wool trumps synthetic, but synthetic trumps no wafuku at all, and still has a valid place in my collection. ~ :-D

Saturday, May 09, 2015

More Kimono Fun in Ro, Sha, & Yukata

Ahh, here we are again, with more lovely wafuku. This time, I will be showing you ro kimono. Ro & sha are a type of open weave used for the dead of heat summer. Back in the day, folks desperately needed a way to keep cool and still stay dressed, so some brilliant weavers came up with ro & sha.  Nowadays, many Japanese wear yukata, which is different than ro or sha. Ro & sha are types of weaves, where-as yukata is a type of kimono. I'll show you yukata at the end of this post.

Can you see the tabi & geta my daughter has on this time? The tabi are a very fun cotton ducking, and the geta have cute pink sakura on them. Geta are a different type of shoe from zori. They are less formal, and either come in a wooden flip-flop shape or have actual teeth on the bottom. Thus those type are called toothed geta. While she is wearing toothed geta with the yukata in the photos at the end of this post, it is difficult to actually see them, so I will point them out in another post.

Here you can see that the obi is also ro, which makes it much lighter and more breathable. See the lines in the pink areas of the obi? Those are actually not a color, but rather formed from the very open weave of ro. If you look closely at the kimono, you can see those same lines it. Therefore, ro is a fabric with an open weave in the form of lines.
See the cute fish obiage?  Although it is not a sha or ro weave, it is still a great summer obiage because it's such a nice light cotton weave. And guess what else? It's just a regular long scarf, but it works perfectly as a cute obiage. Obiage is a great place to cheat & cut costs in your wafuku. You can use any beautiful scarf, as long as it's long enough & has the right look. This one came from the dollar store! :-D

This is another ro kimono & obi, and it has a very interesting, funky old pattern on it. I think it's quite beautiful and perfect for the Japanese Sister Cities park in our area. It looks just like some of the ponds there. If the flowers were in bloom and the pools were up, I would have taken the pictures there, but since they aren't the stairs at the Sister Cities park will have to do. ;-D

You can see, I didn't leave enough room at the collar here. Even though there is SOME room, it really isn't enough. There ought to be a little more than a fist's worth. And in order to get that, you have to start out with more than a fist's worth, because it somehow manages to sneak up on you as you dress. Now, a most genius invention for keeping that collar in place ~ it's called an emon-nuki. It attaches to the back of the nagajuban, the korin belt or koshihimo passes through a small tab sewn onto it at the right height, and VOILA!, the collar stays put! Why isn't this collar staying put, you may ask? Well, I haven't added an emon-nuki to every nagajuban yet.....
See how it's just a loose tab sewn onto the collar?


Here you can see the very loose weave of the michiyuki.

It looks pretty cool, eh?
Again, notice how tight the collar is on my daughter. This is just too close, and should be worn much looser on the nape of the neck. Notice how nicely that michiyuki frames the collars.

Here is the same ensemble, only using a springy grass green silk ro michiyuki.

We couldn't decide which one looked better, but in the end, the black seemed to compliment the greens a little more than the green on green.

I still really like the green on green, however.
Ahhh, and here we have what is called yukata. A yukata is a cotton kimono that is a lot less formal than other kimono. You don't usually wear a nagajuban underneath (although a hadajuban is still a good idea).  Also, yukata should not be worn to formal events or tea ceremonies, funerals, weddings, etc. It's mostly for summer festivals. Still, it's a lot of fun to wear, and much easier than regular kimono, because it's made of cotton, so you aren't nearly so worried about it getting ruined!

This particular yukata is called an odori kimono. That means it's a dance yukata, used for summer dance festivals or obon. Maybe only the dancers are supposed to wear them, but around here, again, we don't have any obon festivals, or Japanese dancers, or any of that, so we can get away with it pretty easily.

Notice that cool fan? It's a traditional obon festival fan, perfect for hot summer days! Also, notice that this obi is a little different than the ones you saw in the ro kitsuke. That is because this is called a hanhaba obi. That means it's less wide than a Nagoya or fukuro obi. (I'll cover fukuro obi in another post.) Typically, hanhaba obi are the least formal & usually made of cotton, although, if they are silk & have gold or silver threads, that can help to ~formal them up~ a bit. Notice that with a hanhaba obi, an obijime is not really necessary to hold the musubi together. You can still use one, but then it's just a decorative addition, not a necessity. Notice too, that the obiage is tied more informally, more for decoration than anything.

And here we have the musubi. This is also a bit different than the normal musubi you would wear with a yukata, but not by much. Basically, the bow is shaped a bit different, and the center is valley folded. This particular musubi is called a mini-Miguel. Miguel is a friend of mine who actually made up a really awesome new type of musubi, which I will show you in another post. (Same post as the one in which I explain about fukuro obi, & if he's willing to let me.) There are several musubi that can be tied with a hanhaba obi, it is not restricted to only one or two, however, you just can't get very elaborate musubi out of them, because of the width.
Lastly, please notice the obi hanging up on the screen in the background. That is a fukuro obi. See how the width is double that of the hanhaba, and has far more complex designs and threads? That is part of the formality difference ~ in other words, you wouldn't want to wear a cotton hanhaba with anything other than a cotton yukata. Despite the lack of formality, however, yukata & hanhaba can be very awesome to wear, simply because it can be easily cleaned, it has less layers, the designs are often very fun and a little less sophisticated.  AND, because yukata are usually worn to festivals, people associate them with fun times, and therefore want to wear them more.
In the end, I suppose that although I love yukata for it's light nature, it's fun prints, & it's ease of use being cotton & less layers, I still love the ro more ~ the reason is, ro is still very breathable & summer-friendly, and it can still be used in a more formal setting, which makes it much more versatile than yukata.

Let's Kitsuke Like It's 1944 ~ or how about ~ Kimono Obsession Takes Over!

Yes, that same odd obsession that you may have noticed in the last few posts......well...it hasn't really gone away. Turns out my daughter and I just have too much fun, she enables me, and I enable her. So, in honor of this latest bit of fun, here are some pictures of my daughter in kimono. For those un-initiated, the act  / skill of dressing is called kitsuke. I buy the wafuku (Japanese traditional clothing / accessories), dress my daughter, and she models it. (She has been learning how to dress herself lately and is doing very well ~ I'm quite proud of her!) I'll try to explain things as I post them ~ who knows, perhaps you might just fall in love with all things kimono yourself. ;-D

This first kimono is a charming little Heisei era silk / wool blend hitoe (that is Japanese for unlined) kimono.  It has a great seasonless pattern and makes me think of a Taisho Roman (1890's to 1930's or 1940's.. pre- wwII) look. Being in the colors of red, black, dk green, and a sort of creamy off white (with a greenish yellow undertone) background, it can co-ordinate with so many obi, and can be worn any time except during the heat of summer. And even then, you could wear it in the evenings around here, since we have a 40*F+ temperature swing from day to night. (That's what it means to live out in the arid desert.)

This is a close-up of the kitsuke. Although I like the turtle, I am not fond of how it seems to mess up the line of the obijime. Obijime is the red silk cord used to secure the obi. Obi is the very wide belt that secures the kimono in front & ties up into decorative knots and bows in the back. The different types of bows and knots are called musubi. The black length of silk above the obi is called an obiage. Normally, in very formal situations, black is reserved for funeral wear; however, we don't live in Japan, and we don't have any formal tea ceremonies or Japanese funerals to go to, so I think we'll be ok bending this rule on the obiage.

This musubi is called an otaiko drum knot, or taiko for short. It is one of the easiest knots to tie, especially if you are dressing yourself, so this is the musubi you will likely see most often.  It also spans age range, seasonality, and formality, so it is a very useful musubi. There are even special obi designed specifically for this knot ~ it is called a Nagoya obi. There are also easy tie fake taiko obi, in 2 pieces, called a tsuke obi.

This long black jacket is called a haori. It is open in the front, and is usually decorated somewhat simply, although I have seen some really wild designs, too. This particular haori has woven urushi designs. Urushi is where they take strips of paper, laquer them to different colors, and then weave them into the fabric as part of the design. Isn't that just so genius? And because it is a high quality washi paper, there are long plant fibers in it, which makes it very durable. I have some pieces of urushi woven fabric that I have soaked, hand-washed, and then ironed out, and the design, colors, & integrity remain as lovely as before, if not better. No bleeding at all.

Now this umbrella is called a wagasa or bangasa. It is also made of lacquered paper, and then the design is hand-painted on. If you ever have the chance to own a real, hand made Japanese shade (parasol, wagasa, bangasa, umbrella) I recommend you take it. They are beautiful works of art. And I mean the precision with which they are constructed, as well as the painted decoration.
This is how the long haori look in the front. Often, they have small haori-himo (or kumihimo) to tie the front loosely. Himo means tie, or cord.

This is another great timeless and seasonless kimono. It is a wool plaid hitoe from the Heisei era, but again, could be from almost any more recent era (1890's & on).  The obi is a tsumugi wool, with a modern woven design. Tsumugi means a few things, but generally, it connotates the nubbiness of the fabric. A silk tsumugi is like a raw silk, from the lesser quality silk cocoons, where-as a wool tsumugi is a nubbier, less smooth fabric. Both have wonderful wear-ability, and in fact, many silk tsumugi kimono only become more and more comfortable and soft as they age, and are therefore passed down from generation to generation for wear.

Here you can somewhat see the modern woven design on the obi. The flower is highly stylized, and is therefore seasonless. If the flower can be identified, then you generally want to wear it just prior to the season in which it will bloom. So if you had a sakura (cherry blossom) kimono or obi, you would wear it the week or 2 before the sakura bloomed in your area. According to the very stiff old rules, you would not want to wear it during the sakura blooming, because that would be seen as competing with the real thing, which would be considered rather gauche. You also wouldn't want to wear it after the sakura bloom, because by then, the season is over, and for pete's sake, that's ~So Last Week!~. However, in the dead of winter, if you were to wear sakura, it might be acceptable, because then it would be seen as a wish for spring. Complicated, isn't it?
One must remember, however, that all of these dressing rules were made up when people had tons of different kimono just hanging around, and kimono designers wanted a good excuse to sell more kimono. It's the same old commercial song & dance you see in every clothing business trade. Make it seem like the newest, latest, make some rules up about it, and sell more clothes! (And those made-up  rules exist across cultures ~ think of wearing white past Labor Day, etc.)

This ensemble is a beautiful rust silk michiyuki over a grey-blue silk awase kimono, with a woven pattern of chrysanthemums & maple leaves. A michiyuki is much like a haori, except that it closes completely at the front, snaps up and often has a small pocket in front. The collar of the michiyuki is designed to show off the co-ordination of all of the collars, as it frames them all so beautifully. Awase means lined. So an awase kimono is lined (usually with silk, but occasionally with muslin or cotton, depending on the fabric the kimono is made of) & is therefore to be used during colder days of the year. Does that mean that you can only wear awase when it's cold and hitoe (unlined) when it's warm? Not necessarily ~ again with those rules ~ ;-D ~ remember the wool kimono? They are almost never lined, yet are for cold weather! Ahhh, the complexities of kimono.

Here you can see the shoes that are worn, these kind are called zori. The strap is centered in the shoe, and oddly enough, the foot usually falls off slightly on the outside, as well as a bit on the heel. And that is the proper way to wear them. It isn't very comfortable at first, and many ladies are sorely tempted to just get a slightly larger size. You can do that, but only if you have tiny feet to begin with, since the Japanese just don't make zori in very large sizes. Luckily, my daughter is a tiny girl (5'2 1/2"), and has small feet as well (23cm, or size 6.5 to 7). This has made it much, much easier to purchase reasonably priced second hand wafuku. The socks she is wearing are called tabi, and these are also measured in centimeters, so we get her 22.5 to 24cm sized tabi. You have to get used to the way the toes are split up, but that too becomes comfortable after wearing them often enough.

See how the collar is back away from her neck here? That is how kimono are to be worn properly. If you saw some earlier posts, you noticed that we did not give the correct amount of space back at the neck. Only little girls and men wear their kimono close against the neck.

Here, you can see the flowers in her hair. These are tsubaki, or camellia flower. They are typically a winter flower, but these particular tsubaki are handmade little chirimen, and they looked so right in her hair, that I decided, to heck with that winter flower dealio ~ we're putting them in her hair! Besides, they match perfectly. :-D 
Perhaps you can also see the red at the inside of the collar, and the red lining the back of the sleeves.  This is called a nagajuban, or juban, for short. It is an under kimono, and is worn not only to give added color and interest to the entire ensemble, but also as a protection, to keep the outer kimono clean and free of body dirts, sweat salts, and so on. Silk kimono cannot be washed without completely unstitching, carefully handwashing, ironing, re-stitching, and finally minimal ironing. It's quite a process! So you can see why a nagajuban would be necessary. There is another layer of protection, as well. It is called the hadajuban. Hadajuban are typically made of either double gauze cotton, or double gauze cotton and muslin. (In many parts of the world, Japan included, the term "muslin" is used for a very light thin wool fabric, not the cheaper unbleached cotton fabric that we use the term to describe here in America.) The hadajuban actually touch the skin, and so can be washed easily, and are far cheaper to replace. A hadajuban might be used for a few seasons and then thrown away or re-purposed into something else, but a nagajuban will last for decades or more, and kimono can be passed down from generation to generation. Isn't that just so awesome & genius?

Look under the obi, do you see that extra bit of fabric that looks folded? That is called the ohashori. Ohashori is an important part of kitsuke. One of the reasons it is important is because it allows the bottom half of the kimono to move independently of the top half of the kimono. It also creates a nice neat line that adds to the entire look, and gives it a sort of ~jacket~ or ~peplum~ look. Is it absolutely necessary? Weeeeeelll.... big debates on that. If you are trying to wear those amazing Roman Taisho era kimono, and you are taller than 5'2" (and I am here to tell you, even THAT is too tall sometimes!), you are going to have a hard time getting a decent ohashori out of the kimono. A lot of ladies will simply make a tiny one that is under the obi, and just call it good. It doesn't look bad, it just doesn't always look quite right. But we've done it, because some kimono deserves to be worn, regardless of height! ;-D Another trick is to get that obi up higher, in order to get a touch more ohashori. You can also tie your koshihimo lower on the hips, and see if that helps. Koshihimo are the hidden ties underneath that help to hold everything together. (I will cover how to dress and those terms in another post.)

See the string that is flying about? That is another himo that is part of the michiyuki. It is just there to help secure the insides of the michiyuki, so that it hangs properly.

Note the worried look on her face ~ the duck and goose goop is THICK ~ we had to walk ever so carefully in order to not step in it.

  A close-up of the tsubaki hair ornaments, and the wooden hair fork that her daddy carved for her. It's very important that when you wear kimono, you make certain your hair also looks nice. So many times I have seen gals struggle and twist and finally get their obi tied and their kitsuke in order, and they are so pooped that by the end, they have forgotten their hair! My suggestion ~ do your hair first. Kimono will never mess up your hair-do, so it's always a safe bet. Besides which, you don't want overspray from hairspray or other hair or make-up products to get on your gorgeous kimono. And it's far easier to do your hair NOT in kimono, if you have to do your own.
Well, More kimono in another post, I hope you enjoyed this little Foray Into the Kimono ~ ;-D